Be careful on ice as days grow warmer

This week seems like winter might have turned a corner, with daily high temperatures above freezing predicted through the weekend. The sight and sound of melting ice and snow are everywhere.

Downstate, not surprisingly, is dealing with a much stronger dose of winter thaw, including flooding from ice jams.

While Upper Peninsula ice still appears pretty solid, Michigan officials are reminding residents it’s getting to be that time of year when venturing out onto that seemingly frozen lake can be a dangerous gamble as each warmer day goes by.

“Thawing ice conditions on Michigan’s lakes, rivers and ponds are dangerous and will become unpredictable as temperatures rise,” State Fire Marshal Kevin Sehlmeyer said. “Late winter ice many times leads to dangerous situations that could end in tragedy.”

First responders statewide have responded to numerous calls in the past about adults, children and pets that have fallen through the changing ice conditions during the late winter and early spring, Sehlmeyer said. That risk increases when using makeshift bridges to get onto ice or to cross a crack in the ice to get further out onto a lake or river.

“We ask parents and pet owners to keep children and pets off the ice as the melt begins,” Sehlmeyer said. “… Nearly 85 percent of ice rescue emergency 9-1-1 calls are a result of individual(s) or pet owners trying to save a pet who fell through the ice.”

According to Sehlmeyer, you simply cannot judge or guess, ice thickness and safety, especially in late winter and early spring. Watch for thin ice conditions that can hide cracks and weak spots, such as slushy ice, any ice with water on it and snow-covered ice. Ice that has thawed and re-frozen is weaker and will appear milky.

As the snow melt increases, ice will become thinner and more dangerous, and may melt faster due to an increase in water flow and stronger currents as lakes and rivers rise.

If the terrifying possibility of falling through ice becomes a reality, officials advise staying calm and remembering the “1-10-1” principle, recommended by University of Manitoba professor Gordon Giesbrecht:

— In the first minute, get control of your breathing. Don’t thrash, try not to gasp for air and hyperventilate.

— The next 10 minutes offers a window of meaningful movement to escape. You will have up to one hour to escape or be rescued before you become unconscious.

— Look around and determine where the ice is the thickest. Usually, you’ll want to turn to and face the way you came from. In that direction, the ice had been strong enough to hold you up to the point in which it wasn’t.

— Stretch your arms atop the ice surface. Flutter-kick your feet until your body is horizontal, like a swimmer kicks. Kick harder, using your hands and arms to pull yourself onto the ice. Roll away from the hole, and then crawl until you can safely stand.

And much as the instinctive reaction might say otherwise, Sehlmeyer warns: “If you do see an emergency on the ice or near bodies of water, always call 9-1-1 first! First responders are trained and equipped for ice and water rescues, including the rescue of pets.”